Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas with a bitter edge - thoughts to those who've lost loved ones

Earlier this week I was finally beginning to get into the holiday spirit and decided to pull together a list of my favorite Christmas tunes.  I'd started writing down songs and since I was home today with my sick 9 year old, decided to put the finishing touches on the project.   And then I saw the horrible news about the mass shooting of some 20 young children at a Connecticut elementery school ...  it makes me stop and wonder if there is any longer such a thing as Christmas spirit. 

Since I'd finished the list, I'll upload it, but suddenly the list seems unimportant as do many other Christmas things ...  As a parent, my thoughts and prayers go out to the parents of those young victims. 

Mike Oldfield "In Dulci Jubilio"
'Tubular Bells' gets into the holiday spirit ...   Oldfield is the ultimate one man band.

Boney M "Mary's Boy Child" 
They were huge when I was a teenager living in Europe, though their quirky hybrid of disco, Euro-trash, and reggae moves never translated all that well to American audiences.  Shame since the song was a wonderfully goofy retelling of the Christmas story (I know Bobby Farrel was originally from Aruba, but his German accented vocals make me smile every time I hear it).  The accompanying video was even better.

Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"
I don't know why, but I take comfort in hearing Springsteen's ragged version of this classic.  Here's a wonderful live version of the Boss (and the late Clarence Clemmons) performing the song in front of a French (?) audience:

The Beach Boys "Little Saint Nick"
Funny, but this is one of the first songs I can remember hearing on the radio (AFN).  I guess that explains why it has such a special place in my heart.  This 1963 black and white Shindig performance is a gas - Brian, Mike and the rest of the band look so young - funny how the audience (most young girls), go crazy when Dennis Wilson is showcased.

James Brown "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto"
I know - an odd choice for a middle aged white guy, but there's a story to this one.  A friend gave me a copy of a James Brown album that had this song on it.  I instantly fell in love with the track and the combination of Brown's social commentary and Maceo's amazing sax solo.  Shame there's no video for this one.

The Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping"
Yeah, one of the best new wave songs ever ...  I know Chris Butler was the breains behind the band (and contributed the killer bass line), but the late Patty Donahue was the band's soul.   Y'all already know the lyrics, but just in case you don't:

Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band "Christmas at Kmart"
This may be a Washington D.C. thing, but the late Root Boy's tribute to the holidays has a special place in my heart - part of it may have something to do with having seen him at a Christmas concert at Radford college - to this day one of the wildest things I've ever seen (thanks Bruce).  There's no official video (Root wasn't that kind of guy), but you can hear this classic holiday tune at:

Bing Crosby and David Bowie 'Little Drummer Boy'
Yes, the setting and dialog was amazingly cheesy and this has to be one of the oddest collaborations in the history of music, but the fact it was so bizarre it lent the song a certain charm that's stood up over the years.  Always wondered what the two thought of one another.   Ever notice how Crosby's face seemed twice as wide as Bowie's ?

Darlene Love 'Christmas (Baby Come Home)'
She's such a classy lady with such an amazing voice and I can even forgive her for singing this tune every year on David Letterman:

Roy Wood and Wizzard 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'
One of the obscurer choices (at least for most Americans), Roy Wood and company turning in their best Beach Boys impressions ...

Greg Lake 'I Believe In Father Christmas'
Hard to believe that a guy who was a member of one of rock's most pompous outfits (ELP), could turn out something as wonderful as this tune.  One of the prettiest things he ever wriote and still stunning after all these years.

The Kinks 'Father Christmas'
Ah, one of the greatest screw-you-for-Christmas songs !!  You have to love Ray Davis sentimenal streak ...  Who else would threaten to beat up Santa Clause ?

Slade 'Merry Xmas Everybody'
Another one that's probably not that well know to many Americans, but it's a chart perennial in the UK.  And since I've always loved Slade's sophistcated sound, a well deserved addition to the list.  This clip's from a 1973 appearence on the Les Dawson television show - nice to see them making a real effort to lip synch the tune.

Wham 'Last Christmas'
Okay, okay I'm showing my sappy side, but how can you not love this '80s classic?  For goodness sakes, remember George Michael before he took the weight of the world on his shoulders and when videos were short for $20 and didn't have big statements to make?

The Pogues 'Fairytale of New York'
Yeah, lots of folks will shake their heads and argue this is about as Christmas oriented as an asprin commercial.  They're wrong, it's a wonderful Christmas tune ...  bless the late Kirsty MacColl.

Eartha Kitt 'Santa Baby'
Say what you wil, but the young Eartha Kitt was hot !!! and this early television clip was simply scorching.  I would have got her a '54 convertable ...  Still one of the sexiest Christmas songs ever ...

The Royal Guardsmen 'Snoopy's Christmas'
Goodness, the fact I can remember this tune from my childhood shows you how friggin old I am ...   Amazing how much simpler things seemed to be back in that era.  Great performance clip from an old Mike Douglas television program:

Brenda Lee 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree'
No way around it - this is a true Christmas rock classic.  Lee's performance is simply perfect.  Nice mid-'80s television clip of her doing the song, though I'm not sure what the fiddle player was suppose to do:

Bobby Borris Pickett and the Crypt Kickers - 'Monsters' Holiday'
Another one I remember from my childhood.  Yeah, it wasn't as funny as 'Monster Mash', but when you're seven, or eight subtlties aren't that important.   Another one where there's no video.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra 'Christmas Cannon Rock'
I debated whether to include this one as it occasionally strikes me as being a bit 'corporate'.  But ultimately it's a great Christmas song - no idea who the two female lead singers are (I'm too lazy to look them up), but the kick holiday butts.

Run DMC 'Christmas In Hollis'
I'm not a big rap fan, but there are exceptions and one of those exceptions is this classic Christmas tune and the amazing video that went with it:

Vince Guiraldi Trio 'Christmas Time Is Here'
I wonder how many times I've seen "A Charly Brown Christmas".  I'm in my 50s and it's still one of the few shows I'll change my schedule to see.   Is there such a thing as a classic classic?  If so, this would qualify.

Sting - 'Gabriel's Message'
Yeah, the Sting-meister can be an acquired taste and you can argue this has tenuous links to the season - it was featured on the first "A Very Special Christmas" album released in support of the Special Olympics.  Regardless, I love it.

Jon Anderson - 'Three Ships'
Admittedly I added this one for the quirky '80s feel and the Anderson's hysterical, low budget video.

Chris Rea - 'Driving Home for Christmas'
Another one few Americans have heard, but a sentiment many of us can identify with and the song's lowtech, each going feel is charming.  Always liked the $10 dollar video that went with the song.

Donny Hathaway - 'This Christmas'
The late Hathaway's an overlooked soul star who had a voice that simply wouldn't quiyte and this is an overlooked Christmas classic. Amazingly I couldn't find a live performance of the song.

Clarence Carter - 'Back Door Santa'
Ah, Clarence Carter ... the sad thing about this tune is that there are a couple of generations out there who don't realize that Run DMZ ripped off the main riff for 'Christmas In Hollis'.  Deep soul Christmas classics don't get much better than this one.

Moody Blues - 'In the Quiet of Christmas Morning'
Yes, they swiped the melody, but I love the subdued, classical feel the song has.

Moody Blues - 'December Snow'
Also off their 'December' album and one of the prettiest melodies they ever wrote.  The perfect melancholy song for life's losses.

Bob Seger - 'Little Drummer Boy'
Seger is one of my favorite singers and his gruff, take-no-prisoners version of the song is near perfect.  Here's a clip from a 2011 concert performance:

XTC - 'Thanks for Christmas'
I never know whether they're playing it straight or not, but on this beautiful pop song, I think Andy Patridge and company were being sentimental and playing is straightforward.  No video ...

Stevie Wonder - 'What Christmas Means To Me'
A classic Motown Christmas tune with one of those incideously catchy melodies that Wonder threw out seemingly without any effort.

John Cougar Mellencamp - 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Last Night'
Funny that you don't think of John Cougar Mellencamp as being the kind of guy to throw out a fun, seasonal tune, but that's exactly what he did with this cover.  For goodness sake, he even seemed to be enjoying himself.

James Taylor - 'Some Children See Him'
I'm not overtly religious but I believe and this song has always struck me as what belief should encompass - openess and a willingness to recognize there are different answers to questions.

Somehow saying Merry Christmas just seems inappropriate at this time ...  hug your kids and tell them you love them.   =  )

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